For 48 years, Georgia resident Jack Abbott was an avid runner — not just on the track and fields for marathons — but also in the pews and on the altars at church.
In the same way, he loved the adrenaline rush of running, he also sees his spiritual life as a race alongside God, as the Apostle Paul states in Hebrews 12:1 to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
The 77-year-old has run physical and spiritual races alongside his close friend and Pastor James Slick of Summit Baptist Church in Acworth.
For nearly two decades, the two have run races together.
In January 2021, Abbott began running a different kind of race as his kidney function worsened due to health complications from COVID-19. It wasn't long before his name was placed on a lengthy waiting list, along with many others who also needed kidney transplants.
His kidney function was less than 5%, and he began receiving dialysis treatments every other day.
"I got the bout of COVID, and I came really close to not surviving that," Abbott told The Christian Post. "I was told immediately that my kidney function was 5%. Then, I went on dialysis for seven months, four hours per treatment, spent in a chair while a machine is doing what your kidneys can't do anymore."
When Slick heard about Abbott's condition, he said his first thought was: "'what does God want me to do to help my running buddy and congregant?'"
By the grace of God, Slick told CP he could donate his kidney because he and Abbott have matching blood types.
"If he had not received a kidney, his long-term prognosis was grim. When I realized we had the same blood type, I knew trying to see if I could be a donor was exactly what God would want me to do," Slick said.
"I think anyone choosing to give up an organ would be nervous about going through with the donation. I found out there are no health side effects from donating a kidney. In just a few months, I was able to resume my previous running schedule."
Slick said he would be desperate for "someone to come forward if it was my family member needing a kidney."
"I think the most meaningful result of being a part of this is my perspective that God chose me to be a part of saving someone's life," Slick said.
Abbott said that Slick showed him the love of God.
Before he contracted COVID, Abbott suffered from a kidney condition, which was made worse after catching the virus. He was hospitalized for two weeks, with one week spent in the ICU.
Before COVID, Abbott's kidney function was lower than average at 20%. His kidney function worsened over time.
"In the middle of the summer, I had lunch with my pastor, James Slick. And just in conversation, he said: 'I got two kidneys. I'll give you one of mine,'" Abbott said.
Abbott said that his pastor's generosity in donating the kidney had helped strengthen his faith in Jesus to how it was when he was a small child introduced to Christianity.
"I've always been a Christian since day one with my parents sending me to church when I was a little kid. And ever since his act of kindness saved my life, my faith has been magnified," Abbott shared. "It has grown exponentially."
Even though Abbott said he can't run for more than five minutes at a time due to the aftermath of his health conditions, he "will never fully understand or process the blessings" he's been given.
"My after-surgery impact has really brought my running down to just absolute minimal. … Now, I can just barely run four or five minutes before I have to stop and walk. And that's probably what it's going to be. And I'm accepting that," Abbott said.
"I think that part of my life has passed. But I'm here and doing reasonably well. If I hadn't received the kidney, I would have continued doing dialysis for a certain duration of time. And I've been told the dialysis process doesn't last forever. Eventually, the kidneys just give up and give out."
Abbott said he is fortunate that he doesn't have to wonder how long his kidneys would have lasted.
"Me and James Slick are really bonded beyond words. We are naturally connected now, and we both feel that connection, and I'm sure the connection will be there for the rest of our lives," Abbott said.
Abbott said since the surgery, he's resumed other activities with his wife, Sandra Abbott, that he couldn't do when he needed a kidney.
Sandra Abbott told CP she was by Abbott's bedside the entire time he had COVID.
"Pastor James Slick donating his kidney to my husband changed our lives because we like to travel and do different things. And we were basing our whole lives around having to go to dialysis," Sandra Abbott said.
"We were not really able to really go out and do other things that we had formerly enjoyed doing and that was a huge difference that we were set free from all of those limitations."
Although the couple must be careful to wear masks and be mindful of Abbott catching COVID again due to his weakened immune system, the duo has been able to travel a few times since the surgery.
"We have enjoyed different trips with friends and we have been able to enjoy going to road races and walking together just like we used to do. We've also enjoyed being out socializing as much as we can," Sandra Abbott said.
Sandra Abbott said that the pastor's kidney donation had elevated her faith to become even more intimate with the Lord.
"My faith was already strong. But, it just reinforced everything about the goodness of people, not just pastor Slick, but his wife Kathy and how they both embraced us and changed our lives. My life is forever changed."
Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.